Friday, June 3rd, 2005

Mark Anthony Neal on the (New) Death of Rhythm & Blues

Two killer pieces in one week? Yup. Here’s Mark on The Slow Decline of R&B:

“Black music has always had a complicated relationship with big business. That this relationship has typically had little to do with actual music perhaps explains the often unbalanced quality of this thing we’ve come to call R&B. This complicated relationship also partly explains what exactly R&B is. “

What I love about this piece is how easily Mark moves between historical narrative, political economy analysis, and especially, critical aesthetic chops.

These days most hip-hop criticism is only about the latter. The best of it usually only has two of the above, and an understanding of political economy is not part of it. We can talk about the reasons for that–starting with the fact that a paycheck tends to be a great mystifier.

In any case, here’s yet another plug for yall writers, students, and folks who care–please cop Norman Kelley’s Rhythm and Business when it’s reissued in an updated paperback version this August.

And by all means, read (or re-read) Nelson George’s classic The Death of Rhythm and Blues. George ends his book with the rise of hip-hop in the mid-80s, but the way he talks about R & B has some eerie and fascinating parallels that make the book seem prophetic at this point in time…

posted by @ 7:50 am | 1 Comment

Friday, June 3rd, 2005

MTV and BET to Air Special ‘Hip-Hop Is Dead’ Week

From here:

(June 3, New York City) Viacom’s main music channels-MTV Networks and BET-will coordinate an unprecedented multi-channel promotion for an upcoming “Hip-Hop Is Dead” Week. “It’s finally dead,” said Viacom executive Tom Freston, “and for this we are grateful.” He added, “An event of this magnitude demands that we leverage Viacom’s assets into a spectacular funeral for a culture we’ve all tolerated for far too long.”

The week will begin with a gala three-hour presentation entitled “Audi 5000: So Long to Hip-Hop”, hosted by Flava Flav and C. Delores Tucker, featuring performances by Jack White, Nellie McKay, James Mtume, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and an hour-long speech delivered in grammatically proper English by noted anti-Ebonicist John McWhorter. “I will argue that ‘Yo! MTV Raps!’ caused test scores among rich white schoolchildren to decline,” McWhorter told “It is an American tragedy.”

MTV Networks-including MTV2, MTVu, and VH1-will also air a half-hour documentary called “This Is How We Roll”, a documentary about the Reverend Calvin Butts’ attempts to stamp out hip-hop in Harlem during the early 90s, and a 4-part series, “And It Did Stop”, tracing the rise of hip-hop culture from the streets of the Bronx to its demise in the ivory towers of the Ivy League, the planned communities of Outer Exurbia, the set of “Strange Love”, and the offices of Bad Boy Records.

Programmers expect the death of hip-hop will allow MTV to return to its early 80s roots-before the channel played Michael Jackson or any black artists. “White rock is so back,” said MTV program director Perry Noxus.

Sources say MTV2 and MTVu expect to increase their rotation of Italian techno bands and anything by They Might Be Giants. BET is replacing its “Rap City” and “106th and Park” shows with reruns of “The Old Negro Spiritual Hour” and infomercials. BET vice president Harrington Rentfield said, “It fits with our programming policy of never doing original shows where a cheap or paid syndicated program will do.”

Civil rights leaders applauded Viacom’s decision. “I’m glad my daughter doesn’t have to watch or listen to this crap anymore,” said Franklin Mooch, president of the Denver chapter of the I Marched With Dr. King Club, which claims a national membership of over 875,000. “Now my son can go back to listening to wholesome family artists like R. Kelly.”

High-placed Viacom executives said the idea for “Hip-Hop Is Dead” Week began with a January 2005 cover story article in the Village Voice. “They started writing about it in the 80s so they should know”, said Viacom head of urban marketing Prescott Vanderbilt. “We checked with our street teams in Idaho, and they confirmed it: hip-hop is dead.” The article was written by Greg Tate, who told, “That’s not what I said!”

In related news, rumors are flying that BET will be shut down shortly after “Hip-Hop Is Dead” week. “I mean all they play is hip-hop videos and movies with dead hip-hop guys in them,” says an unnamed Viacom executive. “Who’s gonna watch that now?” Regarding the rumors, BET founder and president Robert Johnson, vacationing in Aruba at his fourteenth home, could not be reached, but issued this statement through a representative: “Shit, I’m rich, biaatch!”

posted by @ 7:11 am | 1 Comment

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005

Thangs To Do, Books To Read

I was honored to blurb the following two books because they both bring the topic of whiteness and hip-hop together in provocative ways.

Bakari Kitwana’s Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop came out yesterday. After focusing on the issues of post-civil rights African Americans in his classic book, The Hip-Hop Generation, he moves to hip-hop’s multiracial appeal here, and specifically its draw for exurban and suburban whites. He argues that hip-hop offers a space for real talk about race to occur. You get his read on Eminem, updates and analysis on the ongoing hip-hop political project, and most intriguing to me, his deconstruction of the idea that “70% of all hip-hop buyers are white”. This latter section is especially sharp–Bakari unpacks the racial implications of that claim, then debunks it as a myth. Even if you disagree with Bakari, you have to take him seriously. Great reading.

Adam Mansbach’s novel, Angry Black White Boy, takes the same topic from a different point of view. It’s an absurd comedy, in the tradition of Percival Everett, taking the idea of one white guy’s blackface-activist experiment to the anti-Vanilla Ice extreme. I can’t describe the plot without giving it away, but I can say that Adam takes you where you want to go, where you don’t want to go, and then he keeps on going. Read it, then get one for the wigga in your life.

We’re doing an event at Cody’s later this month, with the original Tricia Rose and the brilliant Dave Stovall. Check here for the info.

Last, if you’re in the City tomorrow, check out the special DVD release party for Freestyle being sponsored by our friends at Future Primitive and the Giant Peach. Kevin Fitzgerald will be there to sign DVDs. I got to see the whole thing in Minneapolis when Intermedia Arts screened it after my talk there. It captures all the vitality and power of a crucial moment in the hip-hop underground in the mid-to-late 90s.

FREESTYLE: The Art of Rhyme
Directed by Kevin Fitzgerald


Meet & Greet / Signing with Director and Guests – 6:00pm
Future Primitive Sound HQ
597 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

Special Screening and Afterparty at Money$hot – 9:00pm
with special guest MCs
1840 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

posted by @ 7:11 am | 2 Comments

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